In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Minneapolis-St Paul Minnesota-based innovation practitioner, Matt Hunt, Founder and President of consultancy Stanford and Griggs. With over 20 years of business and technology experience he has a demonstrated excellence in business strategy, innovation, and leadership development with large companies, small companies and non-profit organizations. I had the good fortune to meet Matt at the Business Innovation Factory Summit in Providence Rhode Island this Summer. In this episode we explored the concepts of failure forums and the ways to grow into being comfortable with learning from failure. Good stuff. We also consider the challenge of failure for business leaders and the fine line between avoiding both “sinking the ship” and “missing the boat”.
Certain sections of the Internet worked themselves into a lather this week over the “leaked” internal report on innovation at the New York Times. What followed was a broad cross-section of responses ranging from, “they just don’t get it,” to, “here’s what they need to do to fix it,” and, “here’s what it means as an example to the rest of us”. To call it a provocation would be an understatement.
Regardless of the self-congratulatory tone the report takes at the outset, there are few companies anywhere that would ask the question, “how are we doing in this area?”, let alone would deliver such a comprehensive answer. For this, the Times should be lauded. Especially since they do recognize their own shortcomings almost as swiftly noting that, “…Huffington Post and Flipboard often get more traffic from Times journalism than we do.”
For all the general analysis, and some of it quite specific and valuable (consider the response from Nieman Journalism Lab), there is a lot to learn for all incumbents seeking to innovate in their current markets with their existing business models. However, I think the most value to be gained here is actually on the part of the Times itself. Not only has it done a great job of exacting self-examination, in leaking the report it has also widened the range of possible responses and potential solutions to its concerns.
A more fragile organization might have buried the report, or severely restricted access to it. The Times, being what it is—a news organization, is not going to do that, but what it gains now via leaking the report has paved the way to foster open innovation. Although no specific external partners have been solicited for feedback, the public way in which the report has come to light has fostered some excellent commentary. As a paradigm for using external ideas by building on internal ideas, especially as a firm seeks to advance their technology position, this accidental slide into open innovation is an unexpectedly positive outcome for the paper.
I heard once that Google made a habit of sometimes choosing not to hire every smartest person they could find, instead adding them to a broader network and leaving them where they were in order to foster a more robust technology ecosystem. Mark Zuckerberg also espouses the value of more perspectives, “In terms of doing work and in terms of learning and evolving as a person, you just grow more when you get more people’s perspectives…”. Perhaps this is an opportunity for The Times to recognize the unintended consequences of their report in the public domain might be a whole lot of valuable feedback to help them on their innovation path.
Whether it chooses to recognize the gift of this commentary as feedback remains to be seen. One of the primary rules of feedback is that in order for it to have value a recipient must be ready and willing to listen to it, let alone accept it. As I see it the public response to the leaked report is a gift. Yes, there is certainly a truckload of snark to wade through in order to uncover some observational gems. The challenge will be to see if the Times can take these responses and fold then into their good work.
In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Prince Edward Island-based, April Ennis, the founder of Pure PEI — a site dedicated to celebrating Canada’s smallest province. We explore fear of personal failure and lessons learned from failure even though they suck. We also explore the philosophy of failure as a learning opportunity and how some leading creatives like director, Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Weiner, series creator of Mad Men, frame failure for themselves.
In this episode of Hooray for Failure we chat with Seattle-based, Jake Johnson, the Director of Brand Experience at Phinney Bischoff who wrote an amazing blog post at Medium about his son’s response to failure. We explore fear of failure, the failure associated with learning as a child, and the way in which society at large demonizes failure. It was a true pleasure to spend time with him (twice!! thanks to the less-than wonderful wonders of modern technology). We also share that paragon of entrepreneurial spirit, Richard Branson’s perspective on failure, too.
In this episode of Hooray for Failure we explore the power of fear and how it drives our behavior away from failure with the delightful Ishita Gupta. Ishita is founder of Fear.less Magazine and Ishita Gupta Media. Fear.less has been called “Fast Company meets Oprah” by its 15,000+ readers, and is the leading digital magazine featuring best-known names in business on how to live without fear. Ishita worked with America’s #1 Marketer, Seth Godin to build her own business helping entrepreneurs thrive, build confidence and make more sales. We also share the story of Jia Jiang, who decided to find 100 ways to create moments of failure as a way of learning.
In this episode we explore failure as a learning laboratory. Renee Hopkins spends some time chatting with us about the failure of print journalism (and her super power for escaping it), the challenges of helping innovation thought leaders to innovate (and her work with Innochat), and the lack of room for failure in the “perfect enterprise”. We also have a great conversation about the semantic minefield that is innovation. And a snapshot of a spectacular failure on the part of the UN in Bangladesh in the 1950’s-60’s during which they went from failure to failure.
The range of risk explored, for the sake of self-discovery and innovation was quite extraordinary at BIF-9. It was humbling to see the extent to which people placed themselves, and their sense of self, at risk in the pursuit of revealing new truths.
Combat photographer, Stacy Pearsall opened with a story about joining the military and the elite combat photography troop and through her work received a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. The acceptance of death as a possibility was necessary to do her job and led to her project documenting, “America’s unsung heroes.”
Pearsall described her camera as one of the most powerful weapons possible. That said, after her traumatic brain injury, she discovered that there was a gap in what it meant to be a veteran and how veterans are perceived. She began to photograph veterans to be able to help broaden the definition of what it means to be a veteran and what their needs are in society today. The Veterans Portrait Project was created and she is self-funding the effort.
She wants no other veteran to experience what she experienced in her journey to recovery.
Through her Charleston Center for Photography, Pearsall teaches disabled veterans by giving them the tools they need to feel better about themselves. She finds inspiration in others and the ability to help and exhorted us to do something today—and together.
The concept of a bias for action was very much in play over the two days. Scott Heimendinger, started out as a passionate food blogger and fell into the traps of scrambling for SEO and page views, etc. It wasn’t great, but as Scott noted, doing work is good.
Doing work is important, even if you are not sure what you are doing.
In 2009 if you wanted to cook sous vide at home it cost $1200 to buy a lab device. It shouldn’t have cost that much. Make magazine published his slow food DIY project and he unlocked the Maker merit badge as a result. Heimendinger found the “right pond” to swim in through a process of taking more and more small risks on over time.
As someone who is very risk averse, I have come a long way.
Over time he created a molecular gastronomy cooking club and is establishing Culinary Jam Sessions. Jet City Gastro Physics, just filed its first patent on the way to making better French fries. Along the way he took a Modernist Cuisine course and snagged an internship during which he met Nathan Myhrvold former Microsoft CTO and molecular gastronomist, who created a guide. Now, after directly telling Myhrvold that he should hire him, Heimendinger is working there are as Director of Applied Research and recently had an amazing launch on Kickstarter for his $199 sous vide cooker.
For more on this topic listen to my post session interview with Scott.
His efforts were rewarded by taking a series of risks that were manageable over time. All it took was bold passion and being unafraid to be passionate.
That kind of dedication and passion is something that Angela Maiers sought to tap into during her story. For Maiers, the act of contribution changes us. She sees that the moment we realize we have what someone else needs, in that moment our humanity is cemented.
To frame her story she noted that somewhere between preschool and grad school we have learned to hide our genius. And we need to change that. Then she launched into sharing the tale of a great project she conducted with some high school seniors on the last day of school before Summer. Maiers actively asked them to tap into their own genius, to risk a little by committing to something bigger than them selves. What occurred was nothing less than astounding. The students stayed for two days even though school was well and truly out for the year!
Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just changing the world.
The students felt that they were needed and were going to do something about it. Fifteen social enterprises launched and they all believed in themselves and in each other. By taking a risk they became invested in their own genius. And some of the participants joined Angela on stage at BIF-9 to share their own takeaways from the event and share their own stories, “These two days were really important to me…” which was great to see. Another risk taken…
If Angela Maiers exemplified the process of leading others to recognize and take ownership of their own genius, Andrew Mangino illustrated the results of that journey of discovery from the student’s perspective. Arising from his work as a student journalist Mangino shared his path to eventually founding The Future Project,
High schools aren’t living up to what we all know they can be. Too many students drop out. Even more are disengaged daily. And the current thinking–to blame more teachers, impose more rules, and inject more money–just isn’t working.
At The Future Project, we see the problem simply: Our students aren’t pursuing their dreams. We’re out to turn high schools into Future Schools, where students develop the skills to do just that.
Here are the nine lessons he learned on the way:
- When we discover a passion, we discover we can do anything.
- Young people learn most when they are changing the world
- Schools are not really broken. They are working just as they were designed to work. And so they must be re-invented. [The performance system. Duh]
- A nation build on infinite possibility doesn’t feel like it.
- The most unjust gap in modern America is the inspiration gap. (seen as a luxury)
- The most solvable gap in modern America is the inspiration gap.*
*But it is going to take a movement to do it.
- We don’t have to wait for permission to start.
- Nothing happens without a great team.
- It’s time for a new kind of leader in America—someone who stands for you.
The Future Project asked, what if there were dream directors? Now they have 16 dream directors across 4 cities in schools. Standing up for the infinite possibility of young people exemplified by Marielle, a student who stood up and began to transform her own school,
I have been a dreamer on stand-by for a long time. And that ends today.
Another way of looking at risk was presented by JoAnn Stonier, Chief Privacy Officer with MasterCard Worldwide. For Stonier, risk is not an immovable concept—it is highly fluid. One of the great challenges she sees for us as we innovate in an age of big data is that the risks to our privacy are not fully known and are not being considered widely enough to influence public policy and private behavior.
“The right to be let alone” arising out of the Gilded Age, is the early precursor to the right to privacy and at the time it was needed to create a retreat from the world due to the encroachments of the Industrial Age. That right to holding private some aspects of our identity and the data that is the manifestation of it is even more important now. Last year Stonier had spent the Summer months addressing the encroachment into private data by the NSA.
We are having these conversations because of the nature of the changes in our society today. Law lags innovation—they are never the solution.
If we look to law we are going to be waiting a very long time for a corresponding support. We need to be wrestling with what is at risk now. Privacy matters and it needs to be a part of the conversation for all who are innovating so that we can ensure that our own risk tolerance can be managed.
Perhaps Steve Blank captured the reframing of business risk best. As the author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual, Blank has been uncovering the ways in which those who take risks to begin new enterprises go about their work. He noted that Joseph Campbell identified the hero myth in multiple cultures as essentially the same story. Campbell recognized the pattern in the data.
Blank did 8 start-ups in 21 years. At no time was he looking for patterns, as he had his head down the entire time. Yet he did identify patterns.
After retirement Blankbegan sitting on boards and had one a series of private investments over the course of time he began to write his memoirs. While writing he identified a pattern emerging that no-one else had ever called out.
For the last century everyone had been striving for success is by treating start-ups as smaller versions of larger enterprises.
He offered a countervailing view. He noted that no business plan survives first contact with customers and that the only people who use 5 year plans are VC’s (venture capitalists) and Soviet-era countries.
The best start-ups went from failure to failure learning as rapidly as they could. Blank observed the “pivot”—times during which companies changed strategy by changing the people (firing the VP of Sales) and recognized that there needed to be a different way of handling the failure as a result of risk taking.
What we should have been doing instead of firing the person we should have been changing the plan.
On their first day, Blank said, every start-up is a faith-based enterprise based on guesses and no processes to test those guesses. There is no way you are smarter than the collective intelligence of your customers, so experiment with them. Make the risk to the enterprise manageable by learning as fast as you possibly can.
In this episode we begin to explore the implications for reframing failure in education. Our conversation with Wanda Hopkins McClure explores the need to value the opportunity to fail and her work with Expeditionary Learning. Wanda is a veteran educator who is deeply passionate about leadership and education and she is a leader in the Atlanta education arena, especially leading EdCampAtlanta. To round out the episode we highlight a moment with the Oracle from Omaha and his fondness for failure.
In this second episode of Hooray for Failure! podcast we explore failure with the ever-charming Andrew Webster, Director of Change and Innovation at ExperiencePoint during which we talk about the challenge of working in an organization in which failure is accepted and expected. We discuss the value of moxie, too! And I share a tale of how the a physical remembrance of failure can resonate through the ages.
Starting at the Beginning, NASA freaks out the Martians. We chat with Chris Brogan, CEO and President of Human Business Works, and one of the nicest people you will ever meet, he laughs in the face of failure. I share an Opportunity For Personal Growth That Sucked.